A snappy thriller with strong characterisation and witty dialogue, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu is an entertaining read with as many plot twists as it has droll one liners.
Tom Vater’s novel centres around a group of friends, Dan, Fred, Tim and Thierry, and a shared incident in their pasts which unites them in both fear and greed. Featuring magnificent and often superbly described settings, spanning around the globe and including the Hindu Kush foothills in the 1970s, which are so lavishly depicted that an air of culture and sophistication is lent to an essentially sordid road trip filled with sex, drugs and a battered Bedford bus, through to Kathmandu in the early 2000s, where the violence reaches fever pitch as the protagonists try to unravel a 25 year old mystery.
Rich with accurate cultural and religious references, the book also features intriguing characters with complex relationships and cultivated back stories. No detail has been overlooked in the narrative, and everything from plot to characterisation, dialogue down to the description of the most minute detail is sculpted to ensnare the reader and drive them further into the madness.
If I had to criticise anything about this book it would be the intermittent over reliance on adjectives; whilst some descriptions are clever and intriguing, others are just too long, disrupting the narrative rhythm which is a key feature of the novel. An early description of Dan, for example, features the clause: “his thin, wasted and sunburned face, crowned by black curly hair, black bags like small, crumpled bin-liners under his dark eyes, rough stubble, the razor several days overdue.” Whilst painting a graphic picture of one of the book’s main players, such a long description does hamper the flow and could have been spared, considered that Vater’s skill is evidently characterisation through action.
However despite the occasional descriptive overindulgence, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu is exhilarating and well paced, taking its readers on a thrilling journey around the world and through the catastrophic experiences of the main characters. The dialogue is particularly spectacular, providing a realistic representation of speech which also characterises both the protagonists and the settings they occupy.
That is what makes this book truly stand out: the novel’s heavy reliance on setting. Like many of the great thriller writers, Vater incorporates his settings as a supplementary character, and uses them as a device to convey danger, drawing both the reader and the characters deeper into jeopardy until the exhilarating finish, in which nature itself intervenes to bring the novel to a climatic end.